Golden Gophers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes

12:00 pm (CST) at Value City Arena (Columbus, OH)

Radio: WCCO 830 AM


Any conversation about the 2009-2010 Ohio State basketball team begins and ends with Evan Turner. Therefore, logically, any conversation about an opponent of the Buckeyes should at least begin with defending the national player of the year candidate.

Earlier this year, in Turner’s first game back at full strength following his back injury, the Gophers hounded him up and down the court forcing Turner into four turnovers. Al Nolen led the Gopher defensive charge, using his quickness and ball hawking skills to visibly frustrate Turner. Damian  Johnson picked up the pressure in the second half, repeatedly sneaking in from behind to knock the ball loose. Three weeks later, Turner has continued to his assault on the stat sheet, and Al Nolen is academically ineligible. The Gophers desperately need a quality road win to add to their NCAA tournament resume, and will need Johnson to step up.

Statistically, Damian Johnson is the best defender in the Big Ten, second in the conference in both blocks and steals. With Johnson’s length and quickness, he is as well equipped as anyone to shut down Turner. Unfortunately for Johnson and the Gophers, he often eschews sound defensive principles and instead tries for highlight reel blocks and steals. And far too often, he finds himself in foul trouble, keeping the senior co-captain on the bench when his team needs his leadership the most.

Even when he avoids foul trouble, his defensive risk taking leads to too many easy opportunities for Gopher opponents. After missing a block attempt, Johnson is in poor rebounding position, which leads to far too many offensive rebounds against the Gophers. Despite being the closest thing to a power forward in Minnesota’s starting line-up, Johnson averages less than 4 rebounds per game on the season and has had only four rebounds combined in the last three games . A defensive rebound will always give the Gophers possession. A steal also will give the Gophers possession, but an attempted steal can just as often result in a foul or an easy basket. A blocked shot is nothing but a toss up, with no guarantee of a turnover.

Minnesota needs Damian Johnson on the floor as much as possible on Sunday. There is no other Gopher that has much hope of slowing down Evan Tuner to give Minnesota a chance to win.  Johnson has the tools, but he must used them wisely. If he plays sound defense, doesn’t take chances, and focuses more on rebounding that forcing turnovers, the Gophers have an excellent chance of pulling off the upset.

Keys for the Gophers

  • Keep your composure. Much has been made of the brewing tensions between the Buckeyes and Gophers. Each of the last three games has ended in a shouting/shoving between the two teams. Lawrence Westbrook has likened Sunday’s game to a war and will bringing a mouth guard. It is great to be mentally prepared for what will undoubtedly be a grudge match, but not to the point that they lose focus. At Williams Arena earlier this month the Buckeyes were more focused on mouthing off than playing defense, and it led to a Gopher win. Minnesota’s task tomorrow will be to get under Ohio State’s without distracting themselves.
  • Blake Hoffarber loves the Buckeyes. Something strange happens to the Ohio State’s defense when they play the Gophers. Despite having one of the better defenses in the country, they have been horrible against Minnesota. Blake Hoffarber has inexplicably been left wide open in the last two match-ups against the Buckeyes. He made 7-9 three pointers at The Barn this month and scored 27 points. Last season, despite being mired in a horrible shooting slump, Hoffarber  made six three points in the second half. Expect more open looks on Sunday.
  • Get the ball inside. Dallas Lauderdale is Ohio State’s only post player of consequence, and the Buckeyes always play a four guard line-up. The Gophers should have enough size to repeatedly pound the ball inside.  Ralph Sampson played only 17 minutes against the Buckeyes earlier this season, fighting off cramps during most of the second half. If he manages to stay on the floor on Sunday he should have plenty of opportunities, which should give Minnesota’s outside shooters plenty of opportunities as well.

Keys for the Buckeyes:

  • Find someone to bring the ball up the court. Evan Turner is a lot of things, but a competent ball handler against the Gopher press is not one of them. The Gophers have been reluctant to press on the road, but with their undeniable success pressing the Buckeyes before, Tubby Smith might bring the press back until it stops working.  If he does, P.J. Hill or Jeremie Simmons will need to take some heat off of Turner.
  • Rotate on defense. The Buckeyes were carved to pieces by Gopher skip passes, leaving plenty of open shots. It seemed like Ohio State didn’t know what defense they were supposed to be playing, and were caught between sagging man to man and a disjointed zone. Expect the Buckeyes to give the Gophers little room to operate, unless history repeats itself again.
  • Force turnovers. The Gophers gave the ball away on a quarter of their possessions in their first game against the Buckeyes, their third worst performance of the year.  If they win the turnover battle they’ll be nearly impossible to beat. Ohio State is the 4th best shooting team in the country, which means if they have has many shot attempts as their opponents, they are going to score a lot more points.

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